Nike have produced the holy grail of running, twice.

The baby brother of the might Vaporfly’s 4%

After running two races in my Nike Vaporflys 4% and being blown away both times I couldn’t resist the cheaper sibling, the Nike Zoom Flys. Priced normally $225 Rebel Sports has them at $175 and I had a $50 Rebel voucher from winning my age group at the Pert City to surf, bringing them to a very reasonable $125, you’d be mad not to really. So this morning I rocked up to the first Yolo 14k progressive since I tore my calf in March this year. I met Ross, Phil and Gareth at 5:30am and off we went on our normal 14k progressive pain train run followed by the best coffee and muffin in the southern hemisphere at Yelo.  ( http://www.yelocornerstore.com.au  )  Truth be told its more about the coffee and muffin afterwards than the run but you can’t do one without the other. I’m not sure 14k progressive actually burns of the calories from a Yelo muffin but it is a risk I am willing to take and I always try and run lunchtime just to be on the safe side.

So back to the run, with this being the first time since the 23rd March, thanks Strava ( http://www.strava.com  ) I wasn’t expecting fireworks , added to the high mileage and race weary legs from the weekend and it was more trying not to embarrass myself. We set off quick enough and I headed to the front determined to do my bit before the pace overwhelmed me. The shoes felt good but not in the same league as the vaporflys 4%, to be expected I suppose given the $125 price difference. After 4-5k though the shoes started to ‘warm up’ and I started to drop the pace each kilometre. At the 8k mark we were in the sub 3:35min/k territory with no where you go really but up. I managed to hang on in the lead until the 10k mark where faced with the first hill of any note I wilted. Ross and Phil surged ahead but I managed to keep it together enough to record one more 3:35min/k down the last hill and pre-Yelo. At the end I was goosed , so much so I stopped at Yelo with the Garmin recording 13.7k, I was not for finishing the 300m needed for the normal 14k, sorry Strava.

While munching down on my Yolo muffin (hot mixed berry , my favourite) and enjoying the best coffee in Perth I down loaded the run from Garmin into Strava. (remember if it isn’t in Strava it didn’t happen!) I was pleasantly surprised to find the morning run was a course PB, fastest in my 14 attempts; 10 seconds a kilometre faster than my all time average (thanks again Strava.) It seems Nike have found the holy grail of running shoes not once but twice, and the second option is $125 cheaper; how good is that?

Was it the shoes ? I really think they made the difference. I tried them out on my recovery lunch run (remember you need to run twice in a day if you want a Yelo muffin.) and managed 4:30min/k average; this is quick when I normally run around 5min/k average on a recovery. The Zoom Flys work two fold, first they are very ‘spongy’ with a big heel full of forgiving material , albeit light, which makes running seem easier (especially on the legs which seem to recover quicker) and second they propel you forward, encouraging pace. It was all I could do to run 4:30min/k pace, I could have gone faster. The legs also appreciate the extra ‘spongy padding’ of the heel where usually I’m a minimal heel drop runner preferring minimalist shows like the Nike LunaRacer (how I miss that bad boy), Saucony Fast Twitch or Kinvara’s. The Nike Zoom Fly and Vaporfly are very Hoko’ish with a heel my wife would be proud of. This does have one disadvantage though when a couple of times I felt I felt off-balance, like I was going to fall from a great height. Small price to pay, just need to be on top of your game when you put these race weapons on. I can’t believe my vertically challenged running buddies Jon and Bart’s haven’t cottoned on to the height benefits of these shoes, they’ll feel like basketball players ! (It is to be noted Bart’s did buy a pair of Hoka’s and there was rumours he wore them 24*7 for a period of time before his Wife insisted he at least take them off for bed ? Just rumours mind…)

 

Nike Zoom Flys , PB at first attempt. made my muffin taste even better, if that was possible ?

 

Of course you don’t have to take my word for it, below is an extensive review of the shoes from June this year from http://www.roadtrailrun.com

 

Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to present this 4 way review of the Nike Zoom Fly. Our testers include Peter Stuart from Los Angeles, a “late” forties sub 3 hour marathoner, Derek Li from Singapore a 2:41 marathoner (PR just recently in the Zoom Fly, see below), Dave Ames a well known distance running coaching coach and sub 3 hour marathoner from Boston, and Sam Winebaum, Road Trail Run editor whose annual goal is a sub 1:40 half.

The Nike Zoom Fly ($150) is an 8.4 oz marathon racer/lightweight trainer with a 33mm. heeland a 23mm forefoot. Nike describes being “designed to meet the demands of your toughest tempo runs, long runs and race day with a responsive construction that turns the pressure of each stride into energy return for the next”. It’s got a full length carbon infused nylon plate and a Lunarlon mid sole.
The hype is that it’s a stiff shoe that provides both speedy propulsion and cushioning. So how does it roll? Is it bouncy? Yes. Is it stiff? Hell Yes. Do we like it? Read on to see. Warning, don’t judge this shoe on the first half mile of running in it. It may take a while to break in.

Update:

Not hype for Derek! Our reviewer Derek Li just set a marathon PR of 2:41.20 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 2nd.

 

Derek: I just ran the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia in the Zoom Fly. This is a fairly flat race but with quite a lot of cambered stretches of tarmac along the way. After putting ~60 training miles (~30 at sub 6:30/mile pace) in the zoom fly, I decided to go with the zoom fly instead of my usual Lunaracer for the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia. I had previously done this race in 2013 in the Lunaracer3 and remembered the cambered roads causing some hots spots for me around the met-heads so this was something I was wary of going into this race.

I actually did some marathon-pace efforts alternating between the Lunaracer4 and the Zoom Fly a week out from the race and eventually decided that I liked the transitioning of the Zoom Fly more and was willing to gamble with the 2oz weight penalty for a little more cushioning in the late miles.

I think the forward dip and roll of the Zoom Fly really came to the fore in the last 3 miles when I was starting to tire and was landing a bit more towards the heel. The high stack of this shoe really did a great job dampening the ground feel in the late stages whereas the lunaracer would start to feel like too little shoe at this point.

I didn’t really notice the weight penalty of the shoe even in the early stages when I was running 6:00 miles because the shoe is just so smooth once you get going. On the cambered sections, I did feel a little bit on pressure on the insides of my feet, but no more so than in the Lunaracer, and the high stack of the shoe did not cause any issues of instability either. I did run a wider line a few times to get to less cambered sections at times just so the gait felt smoother.

Post-race, my feet really ached and I had to undo the laces in both feet to let them breathe a little, but my thighs and glutes were less sore than usual which is always a promising sign. (It would take 24 hours for my feet to stop aching, and I’ve since done a 6 miler at 7:15/mile pace 72hrs post race so recovery has been quick and good) Overall, I came away with a 41s PB at this race so I can’t complain. If anything, I’m even more excited to use the Vaporfly 4% at my next race.  Read Derek’s full race report at his Running Commentary blog here

Upper and Fit:

        

Dave: I generally wear a size 9 in everything I log my mileage in.  I like a snug, locked in fit no matter if it’s a trainer or a racer.  The Nike Zoom Fly is just that.  From immediate step in feel, the Zoom Fly wraps my narrow foot like a glove.  I instantly fell in love with the fit.  The upper molds like any good running shoe in my mind, should, wrapping perfectly around my arch, while leaving enough room in the toe box for my toes to splay.  Heels were perfect.  No issues with the heel counter being too firm, which with me can cause some bruising and calcium buildups.  Being a former Skechers Performance sales guy, I can compare the upper and fit to the Go Run 5.

Derek: I sized up a half size based on Sam’s initial impressions (see RTR article here)  to a US10. For reference, I wear a US10 for the Lunaracer/Streak 6, and US9.5 for the Pegasus 33. With thin socks, the US10 gives me just a little over one thumb’s breadth spacing in this shoe, which is fine for a trainer but I think I would probably go true to size if I were to use it as a long distance racer. At 248g for a US10, it’s a little over the upper limit of what I would consider for a marathon flat, but the ride is just so unique that I am sure many would not hesitate to use it as such, if they could not find it in themselves to pony up for the Vaporfly 4%.

The Flymesh upper is composed of two very thin mesh layers sliding over each other, with the flywires embedded between the two layers on either side of the midfoot. It is actually thinner and more ventilated than it looks in photos. In terms of thickness, it seems closest to the Zoom Elite 9. Similarly, the heel cup is not as rigid as I expected based on the pics, and does not extend as high up towards the heel collar as it suggests from photos; this was a nice surprise as I do not enjoy having very rigid heel support in uptempo shoes.

The tongue seems to have the asymmetrical appearance seen previously in the Zoom Streak LT3, and which I really liked because the bifurcation of the flap sat nicely on foot’s tibialis anterior tendon and that helped to “seat” the tongue and prevent it from being displaced during a run.

In terms of overall fit, I find it to be just the right width and volume in the arch and toebox, but with perhaps just a little too much volume for me at the heel. With the laces fully snug, I still feel a bit of heel slippage at faster paces. This is likely just a matter of personal preference, but I felt the heel volume in the Streak 6 to be perfect for my feet, though I know some people find it quite narrow. This is first flywire upper that I can lace up fairly snugly, without causing any hot spots or arch discomfort, so no major complaints there.

Sam: I was sized a half size up and fit is just right for me with cushion socks. With thinner socks, or if I used them as race focused shoe, I would go true to size. Overall fit is excellent, well held for such a thin upper over such a high stack shoe.

The toe box is wide open with no overlays beyond the Swoosh. The only toe bumper stiffener is the black rubber tab up front.

Peter: True to size for me. The upper wraps the foot really well, has room in the toe-box and I agree with Derek that the flywire works really well in this shoe. There’s no slippage and the shoe feels like part of my foot. The only issue I have, depending on what socks I wear, is the height of the arch collar at the achilles. Wearing a no-show sock led to some pretty bad irritation on the achilles. It’s a firm collar and rises up kind of high. That said, with socks that go a little higher there’s no problem. The tongue, while super thin, does a good job of staying in place and I didn’t encounter any pressure spots on top of the foot.

Midsole and Outsole:

Derek: On first wearing the shoe, I noticed a subtle bump just around the level of the met-heads and a quick dip and roll forward, as I lean forward from my heels towards my toes. I have previously experience this with shoes that sported a more pronounced forefoot rocker, e.g. MBT Speed, and less so with shoes like the Zante, which sports a graduated softness gradient from heel to forefoot.

Derek: The outsole rubber appears to be fairly thin and flexible, and I have already generated a little bit of wear at the forefoot after only ~25 miles, so I don’t expect this shoe to be a mileage hog, which is a shame given its price point, but I accept that there are trade-offs to be made in these instances. The rubber is quite tacky, and seems to offer sufficient grip for road use, but given the wear rate, I would be wary of taking it off-road.

Sam: The midsole is Nike’s Lunarlon foam with of course that embedded full length carbon infused nylon plate. The cushioning is outstanding, particularly in the forefoot where they truly have that “maximalist” cushioning comfort feeling sitting somewhere between a Hoka Clayton and Hoka Clifton but with less mush and more stability than the Clifton from the full coverage outsole rubber up front and a touch softer than the Clayton. I really full coverage forefoot rubber and the Zoom Fly’s is for sure full coverage.

Sam: The heel has a narrow pointed footprint on the ground at the very rear from of course that now famous “aerodynamic” pointed shape which I reckon is really more about reducing weight…

It’s not a particularly narrow heel over all, certainly wider than the Zoom Streak 6, but it tapers at the far rear sides. While the cushioning is fantastic at the heel, as a heel striker I wish for some more width back there, a more rounded less pointy far back of the outsole for landing stability. Elites and mid foot strikers will have less of an issue but for me the stack is high and the landing ends up narrow and a touch unstable at slower paces. I did find that expect for a touch of calf and achilles soreness my legs were remarkably fresh after shorter up tempo runs.

Peter: The midsole, made of Lunarlon, is not as soft as other lunar Nikes shoes. I’m guessing the plastic carbon infused plate takes the softness out of the shoe. The stack heights are high, but the ride is pretty firm. There’s cushioning under the forefoot, but it’s not in the least bit mushy. The outsole rubber has a surprising amount of traction (on all surfaces wet and dry) considering it’s pretty smooth. The forefoot does tend to pick up some tiny little rocks, but nothing like the Lunar Epic.

Dave: The Lunarlon foam in the midsole is totally on point!  I used this shoe for a variety of work over the past week, including a 2 mile warm up, 5 miles Progression (6:10, 6:00, 5:45. 5:35, 5:30) and 2 mile cooldown, in which this shoe really began to show its true colors.  Plain and simple, it’s freaking fast. Very Fast.  The forefoot cush, through the help of the carbon infused plate keeps mile after mile smooth.  I am coming off some down months from my past marathon (injured going into it) and even at cranked up pace, my stride was never out of control.  I did not have to search for the perfect landing.  At higher speeds in the Fly, if you get lazy, the shoe will remind you where your foot strike should be.  The Lunarlon foam kept my legs, fresh….never feeling beat up.
I do not see any signs of wear and tear on the Zoom Fly after a solid week of training.  I ran in all conditions including, high heat, humidity, road, gravel and some finely mowed grass.  The full coverage of rubber on the forefoot did not slip, even on the most humid mornings.

Ride
Derek: Running in them took a few minutes to get used to; the ride is unlike anything else on the market, and it is what I imagined an Altra Torin with a traditional drop would feel like. I do not notice the forefoot dip as much once I start running, but it is very obvious that the forefoot feels softer and bouncier than the heel and midfoot in this shoe (because of the proximity of the plate). Even though the shoe itself is fairly rigid, the relative softness in the forefoot allows my toes to bend a bit at the metatarsophalangeal joints and that gives the shoe a fairly natural feeling toe off. Landing on the heel or square on the midfoot feels more like a traditional shoe, but overall the road feel is significantly dampened, compared to pretty every other shoe in this weight category. It actually feels like a Pegasus 33 on heel and midfoot strike to me.

Dave: This is where the shoe gets a tad tricky.  The Zoom Fly is meant to go fast.  My only issues with the shoe are that I found a hard time on recovery days and easy long runs, staying smooth.  Even as a natural running teacher, I consistently had to continue to check my gait at slower paces of 7:30/7:45 per mile, making sure I was landing correctly and transitioning nicely from heel strike to toe off.  Note: I am a slight heel striker and supinator and have many years of low drop shoes in me, including Skechers M Strike Technology.  The 10mm drop in the Fly could have played a bit in this for me, when training slower.  After a few runs, I began to figure the Fly out a bit more.

When going fast, this shoe is smooth like buttah!  Even at higher stacks, which I am totally not used to, it provides plenty of cush, serious snap, and a quick transition rate from heel to toe.

Sam: The ride is cushioned, vibration absorbing yet at the same time firm. Stability is fantastic up front less so for me at the heel when run slow. That heel midsole outsole taper is not as friendly to slower paces. The ride is smooth and very fluid at moderately fast tempos, i.e. marathon paces but I found it harder at faster tempos, half or 10K paces, between 7 and 8 minute miles for me. I struggled to roll off the front of the shoe, up and away at those paces. This is likely due to my poor knee drive and lack of strength. This is not a shoe for shuffling along!

Peter: Firm, snappy and just enough cushioning. Over long miles I’m finding a bit of forefoot fatigue–perhaps due the stiff plasti-carbon plate.  The Zoom Fly does roll through to toe-off really easily and is a really enjoyable ride overall. I find them to be best at Marathon Pace +/- 30 seconds. They want to run at tempo and feel really good doing so. I don’t find them to be terrific when I push to HMP or faster.

Conclusions

Dave: I had some seriously epic runs in this shoe.  I’m also extremely critical with the way a shoe works with my foot.  It’s very, very nice.  After finally figuring out the higher stacks and running some slower miles in it, I think I have it nailed down.  It’s important to understand that the Zoom Fly can be for any type of runner.  Do not let the Fly fool you that it is for elites, only (I’m so washed up!) It will help you get the forward lean you are looking for in your stride.  Heel strikers will especially notice that even with all of the forward propulsion, the protection in the heel is there, but maybe Nike could add a tad more?  I know Sam was looking for a bit more back there and he may be right.  All in all, I’d add this to my rotation, any day.  (Saucony Ride 10, Go Meb Razor, Go Meb Speed 4, Zoom Elite 9)

Derek: The ride is extremely smooth with a wickedly fast transition once you figure out the sweet spot for landing and rolling through the shoe. For me, it’s almost Clifton-like with a Zante transition. The forefoot cushioning and bounce is right up there with the Altra Torin and Hoka Huaka for me. The shoe feels best at slightly uptempo paces. At slower paces, I find myself instinctively landing more forefoot to take advantage of the softer cushioning.

Sam: Nike is, pardoning the pun, breaking new ground with the Zoom Fly and its cousins. Taking a cue from Hoka, it is combining light weight with outstanding cushion.  It has a unique ride and a promising one.  By using the stiff plate, Nike not only stabilizes all that light foam and superb light upper but they are pioneering a new and radical underfoot geometry for what one might call “gait management”, to maximize running economy,  a key part of the strategy for Nike’s Breaking 2 project.
Dynamic, generally well mannered, light, and protective it deserves a close look as a race shoe by those whose race goals are in my view  sub 1:37 for a half marathon, have some strength and drive or as a faster days trainer for most all runners.  It does not seem to be as effective as a slower paces trainer for heel strikers such as me due to the pointed heel geometry and some difficulty rolling off the heel and also not as of yet for me at my sub marathon race paces rolling up and way off the front. It comfortably fits in at about my marathon pace which is kind of neat given the goal for the shoe.
As a slower older runner (about 1:40 half) the Zoom Fly has worked well for me as a faster trainer but given its weight, combined with difficulty getting it up to race paces I think I need to run them so more to find the groove, work on my core strength and speed or go all in for the Vaporfly 4% which my sense after my Boston Marathon hotel lobby jog is clearly much lighter and seemed to have a more pronounced fall forward effect which I think would help me at those race paces.

Peter: I’m not sure I’d classify the Zoom Fly as a race shoe. For me it’s an uptempo daily trainer. I know that might be splitting hairs, but it doesn’t have the same speedy snap of the Zoom Streak 6. It will be interesting to see how the Vapor Fly fits in to the equation. I do like the Zoom Fly. I just got back from 15 miles in them and they were a delight for most of the run. They flow through toe-off nicely, fit well and provide a pretty excellent balance of firmness and cushion.


Score 

Derek’s Score 9.3/10
-0.2 for durability (considering the price point)
-0.5 for weight

Dave’s Score 9.5/10 
-.5 for Ride at slower speeds
Sam’s Score: 9.4/10
-.3 for narrow, unstable landing at slower paces from the pointed rear heel geometry
-.3 for difficulty to roll past the plate at faster paces
Peter’s Score 9/10
-.5 for high ankle collar, causes some irritation
-.25 for forefoot fatigue perhaps caused by plate
-.25 for some early signs of compression in the cushioning, perhaps indicating durability issues.

 

Right , can’t leave a Yelo Progressive run post without an image of the mornings Yolo muffin, here it is and it was wonderful… always running, always improving, always eating Yelo muffins……

A thing of beauty, seems a shame to eat it really.

 

The only downside to these shoes is of course there is a better pair which do everything better, are they worth the extra $125 AUS, hell yes. As I said before you have two kidneys, do you really need both of them…..

 

The holy grail of running shoes….

4 COMMENTS

  1. Mike | 12th Oct 17

    If they are that good, how come the WR was not broken at Berlin recently, not even close? 4% is a huge margin for anyone, for 2 hours that is almost 5 minutes, yet the top guys were slower! The Nike sub 2 hour attempt had too many other factors for the shoes to take the credit. However, I would love you to prove me wrong and run a 2:35 marathon, as that is what these shoes promise in your case! Then I would buy a pair too : )

    • bigkevmatthews@gmail.com | 12th Oct 17

      Mike, Find me a negative review on the Vaporflys 4%, anywhere on the internet. There really is nothing out there that comes close to these shoes, not even close. Read John’s comments, he’s as blown away as me. Also Nike are saying 4% more efficient, not performance increase. The efficiency factor is more about protecting your legs later in the race (with the padding) and also helping you move forward easier (with the carbon fibre insoles) ; all these little 1%’s add up. I certainly recovered quicker after running the City to Surf in mine and even yesterday after a hard progressive my legs felt better after running on the Zoom’s, again I suspect because of the extra padding. Nike have somehow kept the weight down but given you extra padding and propulsion; as I said the ‘holy grail’ of running shoes, twice !

  2. John Shaw | 12th Oct 17

    Totally agree with all that you have said Kev. Another great and enjoyable read on my favourite blog. I think I went into a state of nirvana when I wore my Zoom Fly’s for the first time 3 months ago. An easy 10km afternoon run (after a tough hilly morning session) started at 4:39 pace but soon turned into a progression run with the last km dropping to 3:34 – not bad for a 64yo! The shoes felt amazing and I simply hung on for the ride and enjoyed the experience. I too felt they gave me an approx 10 second/km without any extra effort on my part. I find they work best for me when I go faster than 4:25 pace. Just do not feel the same on slower than 4:25 runs. Maybe they are not designed to be “driven” in the slow lane and are their best in the express lane. I too finally got hold of a pair of Vaporfly 4%’s recently but need to recover from a hammy issue before I give them out whirl.

    • bigkevmatthews@gmail.com | 12th Oct 17

      G’day John, I agree totally, I feel quicker then 4min/k average and the shoes come alive and start propelling you forward. If you are slower than that you probably experience more up and down benefits ?, rather then being propelled forward. You need to get on your toes. Looking forward to you breaking new World Records in the Vaporflys. Maybe you need to contact Nike and get some sponsorship as they failed (I say fail, running within a few seconds of 2 hours could hardly be called a fail in my book, really.) on the breaking two project.

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